De Ole Dawg – Part 10:The needed radical reform of our Civil Service

De Ole Dawg – Part 10:The needed radical reform of our Civil Service

Has our Civil Service persistently failed to be “fit for purpose” in post-volcano crisis Montserrat? (And, what is that “purpose”?)

BRADES, Montserrat– A few years ago, former Governor Elizabeth Carriere put on the table the question as to whether our Civil Service is “fit for purpose.”

Doubtless, just to mention this means feathers are already ruffled and hackles are rising in powerful circles. The same circles that – on fair comment – have too often tried to sideline or lock out or push out positive change agents[1] or even anyone with the temerity to raise such matters by “speaking truth to power” in our independent media. And of course, such pesky radical gadflies are obvious targets for hitmen to slander, spread gossip on, mock and make into scapegoats!

Guess what: that reaction is a sign that Miss Carriere’s concern was and is on target.

So, instead of shooting down the unwelcome messenger,  let us see how we can soberly and soundly deal with a hardy perennial problem, from the roots to the seeds that keep on bringing up new generations of thorny kusha.

If you doubt that this is a serious matter, simply take note that we are now on the third generation – “phase” – of a major public sector reform initiative.  Of course, we have changed the name; openly saying “phase three” obviously means that phases I and II did not do what was hoped.

A few weeks back, TMR listed the bits and pieces we must put together to get:

“CRITICAL MASS FOR TRANSFORMATIONAL STRATEGIC CHANGE

1: Identifying, encouraging, developing and supporting good change ideas, their originators and champions.

2: Providing sponsorship and incubators that get change initiatives to the point where they can break through to undeniable success. (That’s what the PMO was supposed to be, bringing to bear world class training, certification and organisation as well as management through the Axelos system, starting with PRINCE2.)

3: Providing Godfather support at top level, with marshals on call to deal with hitmen sent out to destructively undermine change and discredit change agents. (Responsible critics actually help the change process.)

4: Organising an agreed programme of strategic change initiatives with a timeline and designated expediters responsible to break through roadblocks.

5: Similarly, upgrading transparency, accountability and financial systems to provide confidence in the quality of governance.

6: To foster this, there should be joint oversight by a commission of GoM and UKG representatives.”

If we don’t meet that standard, predictably strategic change efforts will fail. Indeed, the Montserrat Development Corporation (MDC) was intended to be just such a well-backed incubator and catalyst for change.  But, if your change initiative is dogged by top-level capacity problems and is captured by the prevailing poorly performing organisation culture and its big frogs,[2] it will also fail. So, let us remember, DfID’s verdict in the 2012 EC$ 5+ million MDC rescue package business case was: failure.[3] In a DfID-sponsored Business Environment Review report, they gave some telling further points[4]“the  MDC  was  terminated following  poor performance  and concerns over management of money, as evidenced by the findings and recommendations of a Task Force review of the MDC in March 2015.” Similarly, DfID’s November 2014 health care improvement project review pointed to[5]gaps in GoM’s project management capacity.

Whether we agree with DfID or not makes little difference: we are seeing pointers to what our principal aid partner thinks, on long and frustrated experience – they are who we have to convince.  The same frustrations led our last Governor to challenge our civil service’s fitness for purpose. And many people across our community will agree that on the whole our Government Departments are not working up to efficient standard. We clearly have a long, rocky row to hoe.

To start, basic civics 101: our Civil Service is not the main arm of Government and it is not the main centre of legitimate power.  We live in a constitutional democracy, and so every three to five years, dozens of people go out door to door and stand on public platforms to face and be assessed by the voting public and the media. Nine of these are elected as our representatives and the platform of the majority sets the political and policy agenda for government. Meeting as the Legislative Assembly, these representatives publicly debate and pass our laws, including our Budgets. Cabinet serves as the executive committee of this Legislature and is accountable to it. Civil Service Ministries, Departments, Offices, Permanent Secretaries, Department Heads and staff – none of which are directly accountable to the people – all serve to facilitate and support that executive arm of our parliament.

Next, no, the Civil Service is not the “permanent government” that puts up with “those elected idiots” for a few years while its senior officers get on with their own business as usual agenda. Instead, its officers should serve the current government capably and ethically, in such a way that they may equally serve the next one and the one after that. Including, when it comes to time to challenge unsound policy based on thorough, sound analysis. In short, a politicised, low capability, self-serving Civil Service undermines its credibility.

Yes, there is continuity in government (which is a key civil Service role), but also there must be genuine self-assessment, review, accountability, partnership with the public, transparency, reform and change – especially in a day when rapid change is itself a driving force. Likewise, if the Civil Service builds a reputation for roadblocks, undue delays, lack of effective performance, poor customer service, laziness, needless delay in payment, doing their private or personal business on Government time, corrupt under the table dealings and more, it is not fit for purpose.

No, shattering the Cabinet-approved Programme Management Office by frog-marching its head out of Government Headquarters on a “no cause clause” dismissal[6] then delaying a replacement for almost a year has not removed the need for a strategic initiatives unit with world class programme based project cycle management capacity.[7] Likewise, dragging out or frustrating reform initiatives or recruitment of key strategic posts or undermining and poisoning people against needed technical cooperation officers has not eliminated the capacity gaps we face. 

Yes, we need a policy level round table where month by month the PS’es and HoD’s meet with the Cabinet and its executive officers to account for progress and gaps on the agreed timeline for the portfolio of critically important transformational projects. Meet, to make decisions on how to expedite the key projects.

And, more.

For, in the end, it is we of Montserrat who must work together with one heart and mind, to create economic self-sufficiency over the next ten to twenty years.

[1]           See TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/head-of-pmo-dismissed-without-cause-the-premier-laments/

[2]           SeeTMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-19-2017-the-caribbeans-tainted-leadership-challenge/

[3]           See the DfID 2012 MDC Business Case, esp. p. 4:  http://iati.dfid.gov.uk/iati_documents/4158833.odt

[4]           See DfID’s BERF report, p. 1: http://www.businessenvironmentreform.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/BERF-Montserrat-BE-Capacity-Building_FINAL_31Jan2017.pdf

[5]               See TMR, https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-4-2018-montserrats-project-governance-challenge/

[6]           See TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-22-2017-failing-the-opportunity-test/

[7]           See TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-13-2017-prince2-and-moving-towards-an-economy-transformation-programme/

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Has our Civil Service persistently failed to be “fit for purpose” in post-volcano crisis Montserrat? (And, what is that “purpose”?)

BRADES, Montserrat– A few years ago, former Governor Elizabeth Carriere put on the table the question as to whether our Civil Service is “fit for purpose.”

Doubtless, just to mention this means feathers are already ruffled and hackles are rising in powerful circles. The same circles that – on fair comment – have too often tried to sideline or lock out or push out positive change agents[1] or even anyone with the temerity to raise such matters by “speaking truth to power” in our independent media. And of course, such pesky radical gadflies are obvious targets for hitmen to slander, spread gossip on, mock and make into scapegoats!

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Guess what: that reaction is a sign that Miss Carriere’s concern was and is on target.

So, instead of shooting down the unwelcome messenger,  let us see how we can soberly and soundly deal with a hardy perennial problem, from the roots to the seeds that keep on bringing up new generations of thorny kusha.

If you doubt that this is a serious matter, simply take note that we are now on the third generation – “phase” – of a major public sector reform initiative.  Of course, we have changed the name; openly saying “phase three” obviously means that phases I and II did not do what was hoped.

A few weeks back, TMR listed the bits and pieces we must put together to get:

“CRITICAL MASS FOR TRANSFORMATIONAL STRATEGIC CHANGE

1: Identifying, encouraging, developing and supporting good change ideas, their originators and champions.

2: Providing sponsorship and incubators that get change initiatives to the point where they can break through to undeniable success. (That’s what the PMO was supposed to be, bringing to bear world class training, certification and organisation as well as management through the Axelos system, starting with PRINCE2.)

3: Providing Godfather support at top level, with marshals on call to deal with hitmen sent out to destructively undermine change and discredit change agents. (Responsible critics actually help the change process.)

4: Organising an agreed programme of strategic change initiatives with a timeline and designated expediters responsible to break through roadblocks.

5: Similarly, upgrading transparency, accountability and financial systems to provide confidence in the quality of governance.

6: To foster this, there should be joint oversight by a commission of GoM and UKG representatives.”

If we don’t meet that standard, predictably strategic change efforts will fail. Indeed, the Montserrat Development Corporation (MDC) was intended to be just such a well-backed incubator and catalyst for change.  But, if your change initiative is dogged by top-level capacity problems and is captured by the prevailing poorly performing organisation culture and its big frogs,[2] it will also fail. So, let us remember, DfID’s verdict in the 2012 EC$ 5+ million MDC rescue package business case was: failure.[3] In a DfID-sponsored Business Environment Review report, they gave some telling further points[4]“the  MDC  was  terminated following  poor performance  and concerns over management of money, as evidenced by the findings and recommendations of a Task Force review of the MDC in March 2015.” Similarly, DfID’s November 2014 health care improvement project review pointed to[5]gaps in GoM’s project management capacity.

Whether we agree with DfID or not makes little difference: we are seeing pointers to what our principal aid partner thinks, on long and frustrated experience – they are who we have to convince.  The same frustrations led our last Governor to challenge our civil service’s fitness for purpose. And many people across our community will agree that on the whole our Government Departments are not working up to efficient standard. We clearly have a long, rocky row to hoe.

To start, basic civics 101: our Civil Service is not the main arm of Government and it is not the main centre of legitimate power.  We live in a constitutional democracy, and so every three to five years, dozens of people go out door to door and stand on public platforms to face and be assessed by the voting public and the media. Nine of these are elected as our representatives and the platform of the majority sets the political and policy agenda for government. Meeting as the Legislative Assembly, these representatives publicly debate and pass our laws, including our Budgets. Cabinet serves as the executive committee of this Legislature and is accountable to it. Civil Service Ministries, Departments, Offices, Permanent Secretaries, Department Heads and staff – none of which are directly accountable to the people – all serve to facilitate and support that executive arm of our parliament.

Next, no, the Civil Service is not the “permanent government” that puts up with “those elected idiots” for a few years while its senior officers get on with their own business as usual agenda. Instead, its officers should serve the current government capably and ethically, in such a way that they may equally serve the next one and the one after that. Including, when it comes to time to challenge unsound policy based on thorough, sound analysis. In short, a politicised, low capability, self-serving Civil Service undermines its credibility.

Yes, there is continuity in government (which is a key civil Service role), but also there must be genuine self-assessment, review, accountability, partnership with the public, transparency, reform and change – especially in a day when rapid change is itself a driving force. Likewise, if the Civil Service builds a reputation for roadblocks, undue delays, lack of effective performance, poor customer service, laziness, needless delay in payment, doing their private or personal business on Government time, corrupt under the table dealings and more, it is not fit for purpose.

No, shattering the Cabinet-approved Programme Management Office by frog-marching its head out of Government Headquarters on a “no cause clause” dismissal[6] then delaying a replacement for almost a year has not removed the need for a strategic initiatives unit with world class programme based project cycle management capacity.[7] Likewise, dragging out or frustrating reform initiatives or recruitment of key strategic posts or undermining and poisoning people against needed technical cooperation officers has not eliminated the capacity gaps we face. 

Yes, we need a policy level round table where month by month the PS’es and HoD’s meet with the Cabinet and its executive officers to account for progress and gaps on the agreed timeline for the portfolio of critically important transformational projects. Meet, to make decisions on how to expedite the key projects.

And, more.

For, in the end, it is we of Montserrat who must work together with one heart and mind, to create economic self-sufficiency over the next ten to twenty years.

[1]           See TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/head-of-pmo-dismissed-without-cause-the-premier-laments/

[2]           SeeTMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-19-2017-the-caribbeans-tainted-leadership-challenge/

[3]           See the DfID 2012 MDC Business Case, esp. p. 4:  http://iati.dfid.gov.uk/iati_documents/4158833.odt

[4]           See DfID’s BERF report, p. 1: http://www.businessenvironmentreform.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/BERF-Montserrat-BE-Capacity-Building_FINAL_31Jan2017.pdf

[5]               See TMR, https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-4-2018-montserrats-project-governance-challenge/

[6]           See TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-22-2017-failing-the-opportunity-test/

[7]           See TMR: https://www.themontserratreporter.com/de-ole-dawg-part-13-2017-prince2-and-moving-towards-an-economy-transformation-programme/